I leaned back, laced my fingers behind my head and examined the brass nameplate on the desk: Genie S. Parton, Human Resources. She’d only been with StanCo for three months; how had it collected dust already? Weren’t managers supposed to be clean and organized? For that matter, why’d she leave her door unlocked? Was there nothing of value in here? In her defense, she took her purse with her, or at the very least, locked it inside her desk. Still left out: an oversized gym bag containing a box of feminine hygiene products and a change of underwear, office blueprints for the new location’s construction, a tin of cinnamon Altoids, and a spiral notebook full of scribbled scratches.
Five minutes remained before their scheduled introduction. No photos of a husband or kids, so I surmised she was single. Of course. It was logical. No kids meant she could put in extra hours, plus the company had less insurance costs to front. Replace the dinosaur while he’s out on medical leave. My eighteen years of experience? Meaningless – an inflated salary and benefits. Bring in the new girl to fire the old man and save yourself a chunk of change. Why else would she have set their appointment after hours?
I plucked a Marlboro lite from his blazer and nibbled the butt. It wasn’t smoking so long as I didn’t light it, and the doctors said I couldn’t smoke anymore. Bubble gum was for fags with oral fixations. I wanted the nicotine hit, orders be damned. I can’t smoke? ****.
As I patted my trousers with hopes of magically conjuring a lighter, I heard keys rattle outside the front doors. “It’s open!” I called.
Twin mahogany doors swung outward, revealing exactly what I’d predicted. Bottle blonde, leather briefcase, tailored charcoal suit, gold lapel pin and stud earrings, black heels clicking along the hardwood floor in a beeline. Maybe twenty-five years old. No doubt she’d provide an incentive to hire young males, but how good was she as an executioner? I stood and extended a hand; she grasped it firmly, pumped once and released. “Mr. Butterworth?”
“Paul,” I corrected. “Sorry it took so long to meet you, but I look forward to a long and prosperous working relationship.”
She leaned a hip against her desk and asked me to sit. Power move. Rookie. “I’m happy to see you’re feeling better.”
“Yeah, chemo’s a bitch. But it beats the alternative.”
She nodded once. All about economy. She wanted to remove me like a band aid – quick and painless. “Do you know why I asked you to meet me?”
“Nah, but I’m guessing it’s not for dinner and drinks.”
“Be careful, Mr. Butterworth, that could be construed as sexual harassment.”
“I’m sorry, Miss Parton. To answer your question – no, I don’t know why I’m here.”
“Stanley Hyde has a reputation as a man of integrity. He has made it clear to me that he prefers surrounding himself with men of similar integrity.”
She opened her case and retrieved eyeglasses and a manila folder, setting both on her blotter. “You’ve been here since 1994, is that correct?”
“Yeah. 4/9/94.” It was an easy start date to remember.
“During your employment, has Mr. Hyde ever confronted you about your behavior?”
The reverence she used when speaking his name made me wonder if maybe he was paying her more than me already. Or if he was **** her. Funny that he needed someone else to do this kind of dirty work for him. “No. Stan has not confronted me about my behavior. But I suspect – and this is just a hunch now – that you will.”
She touched an index finger to her tongue and pulled a black and white photograph from the folder. Marla Vandersen’s corporate head shot smiled at me. Wow. I’d forgotten how professional she looked when I hired her. But that was back before Y2K, before she ditched her husband to take a second shot at college, or at least sorority life, complete with spiked hair and nose rings. Come to think of it, I’d never seen any other woman with hoops on both nostrils.
More head shots appeared: Florence Hadley. LaBraya Johnson. Melanie Barksdale. Each of them models of corporate America, complimented by studio lighting and cosmetic makeovers. Confident, eager. I didn’t regret hiring any of them.
I also didn’t regret **** them, but that always happened after we’d developed long and prosperous working relationships. The only picture Genie needed to complete the set was Aimee McMahon.
“You’re aware, Mr. Butterworth, that StanCo has a strict policy on employee fraternization?”
“I’m aware, yeah. I wrote it.”
“And yet, you had no scruples about ignoring that policy with these women?”
“What can I say? I guess I’m not a man of scruples.”
She donned her spectacles and folded her arms across her bosom. “Mr. Hyde didn’t want to terminate your employment.”
“That’s not what I said, sir. I said he didn’t. That much is clear, considering the frequency with which you chose to besmirch his name. But things change.”
I bobbed my head. “Were you aware this used to be my office? Not for the last two years, you know, but before I got sick. I used to do your job.”
“I am aware of your previous responsibilities.”
Christ, this woman had no crack in her armor. I wondered how many batteries her vibrator went through in a week. Hell, I wondered how many vibrators she went through in a week.
“Then you must also know that Stan and I served together.”
Her brow formed a V. “Your résumé didn’t show any military experience.”
“That’s not what I said, ma’am. I said we served together.” At a **** job flipping burgers while we were in school, but she didn’t need to know that. “He and I have seen some stuff you can’t imagine. What are you, thirty? ****, I have neckties older than you.”
Genie relaxed, dropping her hands to her lap. Her cheeks dimpled, but I detected no smile between them. “Then perhaps you’ll display the professional courtesy of wearing one tomorrow.”
The shredded guts of an unlit cigarette dropped from my hand. “I’m not fired?”
“No, Mr. Butterworth. You have, however, been reassigned.”